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Unambiguous. A pity.
on 30 July 2014
The story telling is an intriguing as ever. He begins with the main event, and the book is the slow unfurling of the context of the event and the main character's moral and logistical stuggles to do the right thing. As usual with le Carre we have a foreboding that the hero will not win through.
The usual strengths and weaknesses apply , the dialogue is faultless, credible, you can almost hear the words as you read them - though there is a Welsh character whose dialogue is almost a parody of Welshness. The crafting of the story telling is as exquisite as ever. The shortcomings of female characterisation is there as ever, Probyn's wife might as well wear a sign saying `Conscience', his daughter is doughty, loyal and true.
The problems with le Carre's later work are visible - it now lacks the ambiguity that was characteristic of his classics - Karla returned to a potential show-trial in Moscow rather than defect to Smiley, Smiley used Karla's love of family to bring about his ultimate defeat; the ambiguity of good people doing cruel things in defence of an ideology of toleration. Le Carre's minor characters were always memorable also -Ricky Tarr springs to mind. In this book all the bad guys are unredeemable - greedy, vain, duplicitous, all might as well wear black hats. Even the good guys are superficial - Toby Bell, the hero, is conflicted, but not deep. Toby's mentor - Giles Oakley - seemed to be a Smiley-type, but le Carre drives him into a cul-de-sac. Oakley warns Bell not to act on the information he has, so as not to loose his job, he urges him to wait until he has a pension. Probyn is afraid to act on the infomation he has, because he might loose his pension. In fact the only character developed in the book is Kit Probyn, the aged Civil-servant `low-flier'. I think le Carre might see him as a metaphor for the British public - well-meaning, easily led, decent. As I read the book, I kept seeing John Cleese as Probyn, not in manic comedy mode, but in his pent-up despair role.